Maharaj: Flawed but an important story of a real-life social reformer

Junaid Khan deserves kudos for choosing an issue-based story for his debut feature. Although the story is set in pre- independence times the plot holds a huge relevance even today. Self-appointed godmen exploiting female devotees in the name of religion is a rampant thing even after so many centuries.

  • Starcast: Junaid Khan, Jaideep Ahlawat, Shalini Pandey, Sharvari Wagh and others
  • Director: Siddarth P Malhotra
  • Writers: Sneha Desai, Vipul Mehta and Kausir Munir
  • Based on: The book Maharaj by Saurabh Shah
  • Cinematography: Rajeev Ravi
  • Music: Sohail Sen
  • Producer: Aditya Chopra
  • Production house: Yash Raj Banners
  • Streaming site: Netflix

Godmen have a magnetic power over their female devotees, in spite of the fact that several of them have been accused of sexual offences whether it is Gurmit Ram Rahim or Asaram Bapu. Maharaj directed by Siddarth P Malhotra of Hichki fame focuses on one such godman. Junaid Khan playing Karsandas Muji is a social worker and a journalist. From a young age itself he starts questioning certain social customs of those times.

Jaideep Ahlawat is Jadunath ji short form JJ. Jadunath is a high priest of a major sect of Vaishnavites called Pushtimarg. The words of JJ are considered divine. Many women are enchanted by him and want to become his special devotees through charan seva. Shalini Pandey who plays Karsandas Muji’s fiancée Kishori who is in huge awe of JJ. Kishori willingly falls into the trap of Jadunath leading to a huge argument and a breakup with Karsandas. Later she comes to know about the reality of the self-styled godman, but it is too late as the relationship is beyond repair. In simple terms the story of Maharaj focuses on how Karsan exposes JJ by writing about his sexual escapades and the subsequent court case that was fought in the supreme court of Bombay (1862).

The first half of Maharaj is definitely uneven. There are elaborately choreographed dance sequences, and the styling does come across as too modern. The music of Sohail Sen doesn’t help the matters either. But the movie finds its ground as soon it moves into the confrontational zone. There are some powerful dialogues that question the wrongful religious practices and the blind faith. This comes out strongly in a commanding monologue delivered by Junaid.

There is also an important voiceover by Sharad Kelkar on how we do not need a third person to have a connection with God. The underlying message of the voiceover is that a person doesn’t become God because of dharma, dharma is just a way to become a good human being.

Siddarth P Malhotra has also touched upon the freedom of press and how a young man refuses to bow down in spite of many hurdles. These scenes hold a mirror to today’s society as today’s journalists also face many restrictions.

Junaid Khan as Karsandas, just like the movie takes a while in finding ground but the actor becomes better as the movie progresses. He manages to hold his own opposite the supremely versatile Jaideep Ahlawat. Jaideep Ahlawat as JJ conveys a lot with just his expressions and overall body language. As expected, the actor delivers a brilliant performance.

Shalini Pandey and Sharvari Wagh have brief but important roles. Each get a solid emotional scene which they pull off well. Sharvari brings a certain vivaciousness to the proceedings. She particularly shines in the sequence where her character confesses about being forced to do charan seva at a young age.

Maharaj is a praiseworthy debut for Junaid Khan in spite of some sluggishness.

Amar Singh Chamkila: Imtiaz Ali returns back with a bang

After a series of love stories, Imtiaz Ali takes a welcome detour and delivers a hard-hitting film that goes beyond a biographical drama.
Amar Singh Chamkila (Hindi), 12-04-2024, Biological Drama, 2 hours 26 minutes, U/A, OTT
  • Main Cast: Diljit Dosanjh, Parineeti Chopra, Apinderdeep Singh, Nisha Bano, and Anjum Batra
  • Director: Imtiaz Ali
  • Producer: Imtiaz Ali and Mohit Choudary
  • Music Director: AR Rahman
  • Cinematography: Sylvester Fonseca
  • Rating: 4/5
  • Published in: Southfirst

Imtiaz Ali is a director who is known primarily for making love stories and he has found good success in that genre except for Jab Harry Met Sejal (2017)and Love Aaj Kal (2020).

But one of Imtiaz Ali’s best works to date remains Highway (2014). The director focused his lens on the issue of sexual abuse with the backdrop of Stockholm syndrome.

The film was a major breakthrough for the now national award winner Alia Bhatt. It is also one of Randeep Hooda’s best works.

In the last few years, Imtiaz hasn’t had the best run at the box, both critically and commercially.

Tamasha (2015) did moderate business but Jab Harry Met Sejal along with Love Aaj Kal 2 were damp squibs in more ways than one.

Finally, Imtiaz Ali has broken his dry run with the movie Amar Singh Chamkila.

Synopsis

Amar Singh Chamkila begins with the assassination of the controversial Punjab Pop Singer played by Diljit Dosanjh and his wife Amrajot Kaur (Parineeti Chopra).

Imtiaz Ali’s ‘Amar Singh Chamkila’. (X)

The husband and wife were a popular duo who had sung many songs.

From here the movie goes into non-linear storytelling that talks about the formative years of Chamkila which had a huge influence on his music, and how he goes from a Dalit laborer to a singer who is both admired and criticized in equal measure for the brazen lyrics that are sexual in nature.

At times Amar Singh Chamkila also plays out like a whodunit giving an insight into the groups who had a big issue with how Chamkila didn’t adhere to the social diktats.

One of the things that majorly works for Amar Singh Chamkila is the characterization of the titular role. Diljit Dosanjh’s character is not a rebel by design.

There are scenes in the second half when Chamkila tries to move away from his regular songs and tried devotional, but the audiences want Chamkila to sing what he is famous for.

Chamkila is not someone who is dismissive of what is happening around him, but at the same time he is a man who chooses not to be bullied into submission.

In that way Chamkila’s character proves to be a worthy successor to the previous Imtiaz Ali protagonists whose intent was to live more freely and in the process discover their purpose in life.

Many pertinent questions

In the two hours and 26 minutes running time Imtiaz packs in many themes.

For example who gets to decide what an actual art is? Should an artist endure a lifetime of hate and humiliation for choices that are driven by circumstances? And finally how there is a huge difference between criticizing an art versus wanting to ban something that does not align with our tastes.

Parineeti Chopra in ‘Amar Singh Chamkila’. (X)

There are many powerful moments in Amar Singh Chamkila that stay in the viewers’ minds for a long time.

For example, a journalist comes to meet Chamkila and insists on having a personal interview. Chamkila is reluctant to the extent that he won’t even look into her eyes, the reason being this journalist has worn pants.

This portion works as a hard-hitting statement on how a singer has no issues in writing songs describing women’s sexuality in a raw manner but at the same time, modern clothing is a big problem for this man.

Amar Singh Chamkila also boasts of some hard-hitting dialogues. There is a scene where Chamkila talks about how everyone isn’t blessed with the privilege of thinking about what is right and wrong.

He goes on to add that he certainly is not in that position and makes music to just feel alive.

The film also has some archival footage showing the real Amar Singh Chamkila and the wife Amrajot Kaur, this is juxtaposed with the scenes of Diljit and Parineeti.

Sure this technique becomes distracting on occasions but still the raw footage makes it easier for the audiences to understand why the real Chamkila was considered as a threat by the purists.

Technical aspects

AR Rahman’s music coupled with Irshad Kamil’s lyrics is the backbone of Amar Singh Chamkila. Mohit Chauhan’s “Baaja” sets the tone perfectly capturing the spirit of Chamkila. “Tu Kya Jaane” is another wonderful number celebrating the love between the husband and wife.

The camerawork by Sylvester Fonseca is also first-rate. The cameraman deserves distinction marks for bringing alive the 1970’s and 80’s of Punjab. A particular mention must be made of the scenes where the village girls talk straight to the camera with some hilarious punchlines.

Imtiaz Ali also deserves credit for how he has depicted the impact of insurgency, both for Punjab and Chamkila’s professional life.

Performances

Diljit Dosanj in ‘Amar Singh Chamkila’. (X)

Diljit Dosanjh delivers a rousing performance in the title role. It goes without saying that Diljit’s histrionics is a major asset of the movie.

The actor portrays the vulnerability and the fighting spirit of Chamkila in a stellar manner.

Among the supporting cast, Anjum Batra, as the first musician who collaborated with Chamkila stands out the most.

Parineeti Chopra has her moments like the love ballad “Tu Kya Jaane” where she does a wonderful job in showcasing a love-struck woman but the role of Amarjot needed to be etched better and also deserved a stronger actor.

A film could also have done with a deeper dive into interpersonal relationships. The track of Chamkila’s first marriage before settling with Amarjot also feels patchy.

Verdict

Keeping aside these small niggles Amar Singh Chamkila is a glorious return to form for Imtiaz Ali. Diljit Dosanjh shows why he deserves to play the male lead in Hindi Cinema more often.

Patna Shuklla : An effective legal drama that focuses on an educational scam involving roll numbers

On more than one occasion, ‘Patna Shuklla’ feels like a flashback to the ‘Jolly LLB’ movies. But still, it makes for a good watch.
Patna Shuklla (Hindi), 29-03-2024, Crime, drama, 2 hours 5 minutes, U/A, OTT
  • Main Cast: Raveena Tandon, Manav Vij, Chandan Roy Sanyal, and late Satish Kaushik
  • Director: Vivek Budakoti
  • Producer: Arbaaz Khan
  • Music Director: Karan Kulkarni
  • Cinematography: Neha Parti Matiyani
  • Rating: 3/5
  • Published in: Southfirst

Courtroom dramas based on different social topics are one of the most explored genres in India Cinema. The latest in the genre is Vivek Budakoti’s Patna Shuklla.

It doesn’t throw any surprises, and the viewers can easily guess where the proceedings are headed. However, what works for Patna Shuklla is having its heart in the right place.

The director deserves credit for exploring the topic of mark sheet exchange.

This scam is carried out to help rich students pass the exam, despite not being academically brilliant.

Synopsis

Raveena Tandon and Anushka Kaushik in a still from ‘Patna Shuklla’. (Screengrab)

Tanvi Shukla (Raveena Tandon) is a small-time lawyer. She specialises in writing affidavits apart from her cooking skills.

Her life takes a dramatic turn when a third-year BSC student Rinki Kumari (Anuskha Kaushik) approaches her. Rinki fails an exam but firmly believes that some mischief has happened.

Tanvi Shukla decides to fight for the girl but things are not so easy.

A big hurdle comes in the form of Raghubir Singh (Jatin Goswami), who files a nomination in the upcoming elections. He warns Tanvi against proceeding with the case.

Soon, Tanvi finds herself in a huge crossfire that has repercussions in her personal life.

To put it simply, Patna Shuklla is about how Tanvi delivers justice for Rinki by overcoming various hurdles.

In the past too, several movies have shed light on the flaws in the education system. But director Vivek Budakoti is successful in engaging the viewers.

The process of exchanging exam papers and how it affects the careers of underprivileged students has been depicted well.

The scenes between Rinki and Tanvi have some solid emotional moments. The viewers can feel the desperation of Rinki and root for her to succeed.

Performances

What also works majorly for Patna Shuklla is the characterisation and Raveena Tandon’s performance in the title role.

The actor does a good job of portraying the grit of Shuklla. Raveena shines in the intense portions and is equally good at showcasing her vulnerability.

A particular mention must be made of her performance after an important revelation where she breaks down.

Manav Vij as Tanvi’s husband is also crucial to the storyline.

Raveena Tandon and Chandan Roy Sanyal in ‘Patna Shuklla’. (Screengrab)

Initially, he doesn’t take a stand for his wife and discourages her from proceeding further. But he is not a monster either who imposes himself.

Manav Vij makes a striking impact as a man, who comes with his inner dilemmas regarding his wife’s stand.

Late Satish Kaushik has a pleasing presence as a lower court judge. For the large part of the movie, there is an easygoing nature but at the same time, he is not a judge who can be taken for granted.

Satish Kaushik portrays the different facets with his usual effervescence.

The rest of the performances are also mostly spot-on, with a particular mention of Anuskha Kaushik.

What does not work for Patna Shuklla though is the huge deja vu of the Jolly LLB films.

For example, Chandan Roy Sanyal plays an opposing lawyer modelled on Annu Kapoor and Boman Irani.

Chandan Roy Sanyal is decent but is unable to bring the required verve. As a result, the courtroom sequences between Raveena and him feel one-sided.

The songs also come across as uninvited guests slowing down the proceedings.

Verdict

At two hours and 5 minutes, Patna Shuklla makes for a crisp and gripping watch in spite of the Jolly LLB hangover.

Ae Watan Mere Watan: A Moderately Engaging Tale Of An Unsung Hero

Kannan Iyer deserves credit for bringing to live an unheard talefrom the pages of history but sharper writing and a stronger actor would have made this movie more memorable.
21-03-2024, Biographical Drama, 2 hours and 13 minutes U/A, OTT
  • Main Cast: Sara Ali Khan, Sparsh Shrivastav, Anand Tiwari, Emraan Hashmi, Sachin Kedekar, and Abhay Verma
  • Director: Kannan Iyer
  • Producer: Karan Johar and Somen Mishra
  • Music Director: Mukund Suryawanshi, Akashdeep Sengupta, and Sashi Suman
  • Cinematography: Amalendu Choudary

India’s independence is a result of many people’s blood and sweat. These include not just the ones that we have read in history books.

There are many unsung heroes about whom we have little to no knowledge.

Kannan Iyers Ae Watan Mere Watan is about one such personality.

Synopsis

Usha Mehta (Sara Ali Khan) is a big devotee of Mahatma Gandhi.

Her father Hariprasad Mehta (Sachin Kedakar) is a judge working for the British regime. Neither he approves of his daughter’s rebellious nature nor Usha likes the ways of her father.

Things take a dramatic turn when Mahatma Gandhi and some more leaders are imprisoned during the Quit India Movement.

The British have complete control over the media. The radio, in particular, becomes a medium to divide the nation by spreading misinformation.

In retaliation, Usha and her fellow revolutionaries launch a radio channel — Congress Radio.

The Congress Radio becomes an instant hit; it catches the attention of Ram Manohar Lohia (Emraan Hashmi).

Ram Manohar Lohia was a pre-independence leader who managed not to get caught by the British.

Of course, this Congress Radio also comes under the notice of the British and they decide to track down the people behind this radio channel.

The rest of the story is about how Usha and her comrades fight to keep the radio alive and the role of Ram Manohar Lohia in this.

Back in 1942

Sara Ali Khan on the sets of ‘Ae Watan Mere Watan’. (X)

A strong aspect of Ae Watan Mere Watan is how Kannan Iyer has recreated the pre-independence era.

The production design and cinematography, in particular, deserve praise for a job well done.

The costumes along with the architecture of buildings etc are spot on.

Usha’s dynamics with her father Hariprasad give the film some of its best moments — whether it is the scenes of playful innocence in her childhood like the one where Usha is watching Serbian birds flying in the sky and talks about wanting to have wings, or the later portions where the father and daughter have heated arguments given their different ideologies.

The scene where Hariprasad writes a letter to his daughter after Usha is jailed has been wonderfully written and performed.

Another track which deserves a mention is that of Sparsh Srivastava’s Fahad. Fahad suffers from polio but this physical disability never comes in the way of his zeal.

Inconsistent writing

There are two major issues with Ae Watan Mere Watan. One is the lack of more impactful writing by Darab Farooqui and Kannan Iyer.

The ineffective writing is particularly reflected in the love story between Usha and Abhay Varma’s character Kaushik.

Kaushik is not just a comrade but loves Usha. However, this aspect never comes out strong.

Another example of weak writing comes in the portions of Usha using a transmitter and the radio for the first time. We are never shown how Usha learns to use these things.

Compare this to the scenes of Alia’s Sehmat in Raazi (2018), the difference is as clear as day and light, both in terms of staging and acting performance.

Music and background score are of great importance for a film like this. But the movie is a big letdown in that area, too. None of the songs including the title track register.

Performances

Emraan Hashmi in ‘Ae Watan Mere Watan’. (X)

Sparsh Srivastava shows that his terrific performance in Laaptaa Ladies (2024) was no fluke. He portrays the fighting spirit of Fahad in a heart-touching manner.

Emraan Hashmi, as Manohar Lohia, makes a late entry but makes a striking impact. The actor also gets some impactful dialogue which he nails. For instance, there is a scene in a dark room.

A person is trying to generate light by using matchsticks but the matchsticks are getting doused.

You have the following dialogue by Manohar Lohia. “Chahe Kitni bhi teeliyan bujh jayein, hamaare seene ki aag kabhi nahi bujheg,” (No matter how many matchsticks get doused, the fire in our hearts will always remain.)

As Usha Mehta, Sara Ali Khan is like a fish out of water. The actor is earnest but her shrill dialogue delivery annoys the viewers, big time. She is unable to bring the required conviction.

The British characters are, of course, your usual stereotypes and they leave zero impact.

Particularly irritating to watch is Alex O ‘Niel as the antagonist who is given the responsibility of apprehending Usha and co.

Final take

To conclude an unsung hero like Usha Mehta deserved a far better movie based on her life.

Murder Mubarak: A Toothless Whodunit That Fails To Capture The Spirit Of Anuja Chauhan’s Novel ‘Club You To Death’

Director Homi Adajania tries to mix humour with suspense but fails spectacularly. Also, too many characters add to the fatigue.
  • Main Cast: Sara Ali Khan, Karisma Kapoor, Vijay Varma, Dimple Kapadia, Tisca Chopra, Pankaj Tripathi, and Sanjay Kapoor
  • Director: Homi Adajania
  • Producer: Maddock Films
  • Music Director: Sachin-Jigar
  • Cinematography: Linesh Desai
  • Genre: Murder Mystery-Comedy
  • Rating: 2/5
  • Run Time: 2 Hours 21 minutes
  • Published in: Southfirst

Anuja Chauhan’s 2021 novel “Club You To Death” was much more than just a murder mystery. It was a book that looked at discrimination based on class. The novel was a social satire in many ways.

For those who haven’t read Anuja Chauhan’s work, the setting of the movie is the Royal Delhi Club, known for its lavish parties and high-profile guests.

A murder is committed on its premises and ACP Bhavani Singh (Pankaj Tripathi) is given the responsibility of unravelling the mystery.

Bhavani Singh’s character is modelled on British writer Agatha Christie’s hugely popular fictional detective Hercule Poirot.

Also, there is Karisma Kapoor as superstar Shehnaz Noorani.

The lives of these rich people are juxtaposed with the working class.

For example, there is a caretaker with dementia Guppie Ram (Brijendra Kala).

In simple terms, the story is about what led to the death of the Zumba instructor Leo Mathews (Ashim Gulati) along with the various secrets of the suspects.

Analysis

A still from ‘Murder Mubarak’. (X)

What makes Murder Mubarak somewhat tolerable is the basic storyline.

Sure, the narrative style is tedious but the suspense of who the murderer is keeps the viewers going.

Here, director Homi Adjania and the writers must be given credit.

The last 20 minutes of Bhavani Singh solving the case is interesting.

Among the sprawling cast, Pankaj Tripathi has the most fun. The dependable actor brings his charismatic charm and also gets some good lines.

For instance, in a scene, he says “Aaj kal anti-national banne ke liye zyada patishram nahi karna padta hai (These days, it is quite easy to be labelled anti-national).

A big problem with Murder Mubarak is the overindulgence of Homi Adajania. This can be seen in how the director overstretches the narrative.

Most characters have also been poorly etched; a case in point is Vijay Varma and Dimple Kapadia.

In the second half, there is a badly placed love story between Sara Ali Khan and Vijay Varma while they are doing their parallel investigation.

The writing and the chemistry between the actors are weak.

Sara Ali Khan has one important scene in a crucial flashback towards the end. But the actor messes that scene up with her overacting. As a result, the viewers do not feel the emotional turmoil of her role.

Final take

Despite its engaging subject and an interesting set of actors, Murder Mubarak is a major misfire.

Bhakshak: A Hard-Hitting Saga That Makes Pertinent Points On The Power Of Real Journalism

‘Bhakshak’ is not everyone’s cup of tea but it is a must-watch for those who like gritty dramas based on real-life incidents.
  • Main Cast: Bhumi Pednekar, Sanjay Mishra, Sai Tamhankar, Aditya Srivastava, and Surya Sharma
  • Director: Pulkit
  • Producer: Gauri Khan and Gaurav Verma
  • Music Director: Anurag Saikia and Anuj Garg
  • Cinematography: Kumar Sourabh
  • Rating: 3.5
  • Published in: Southfirst

Directed by Pulkit and written by Jyotsana Nath Pulkit, Bhakshak is based on the horrific incidents reported in a shelter home in Muzaffarpur, Bihar.

Several girls were sexually abused in the shelter home run by a politician.

Real-life incidents always make for a gripping cinema, provided they are well-directed. Thankfully, the director along with the writer, has done a brilliant job of keeping the viewers engaged.

The film does meander at places, and there was no real need for the songs. But still, all said and done, Bhakshak is a must-watch.

Synopsis

Bhumi Pednekar in a still from ‘Bhakshak’. (X)

Vaishali Singh (Bhumi Pednekar ) is a small-time independent journalist who runs a news channel called “Koshish“. In simple terms, the movie is about her attempts to bring forth the reality of Munnawarpur shelter home.

The man running this shelter home is also a journalist named Bansi Sahu (Aditya Srivastava). Bansi Sahu has strong political connections and has zero remorse about his activities.

So, it becomes an uphill task for Vaishali and her colleague Baskar Sinha (Sanjay Mishra) to expose the truth.

Authentic sans melodrama

‘Bhakshak’ is a thriller that revolves around child sexual abuse. (X)

Director Pulkit does not waste any time in setting up the plot.

Bhakshak starts on a disturbing note that sets the base for the drama to follow.

A strong aspect of the film is how the director shows the struggle of Vaishali in digging for the truth. She faces challenges in both her professional and personal life.

We see Vaishali constantly going out for long hours and this results in problems with her husband (Surya Sharma), who is shown to be frustrated with the erratic timings of his wife.

Additionally, the in-laws feel that Vaishali should soon become a mother.

There are showdowns between the husband and wife. Many working women would relate to Vaishali’s struggles.

The sexual exploitation done in the shelter home has also been portrayed with the required sensitivity. A section of viewers are sure to feel highly emotional.

The director also deserves credit for not taking the melodramatic route and exaggerating scenes for the cause of the effect because the nature of crime is disturbing in itself.

Director Pulkit also deserves credit for how he has portrayed journalism and Journalists.

There is not a single scene of journalists screaming in front of the cinema in a filmy manner. He keeps it authentic.

Pulkit also takes digs at the section of people who unquestioningly believe in WhatsApp forwards.

However, at certain places, the film loses grip with some repetitive writing. The songs are not needed. For example, the song towards the climax.

Mesmerising performances

Aditya Srivastava in ‘Bhakshak’. (X)

Apart from the strong writing. Bhakshak also scores big on the performance front.

Bhumi Pednekar aces her part of a fearless journalist. She does a perfect job of showcasing the mannerisms, and her dialect is also praiseworthy.

Sanjay Mishra is wonderful. He brings in the much-required humour in certain situations. His rapport with Bhumi’s Vaishali is a delight to watch.

Aditya Srivastava makes for a truly despicable villain. The actor makes the viewers hate Bansi Sahu with just his facial expressions. Sai Tamhankar, as SSP Jasmeet Kaut, plays an important role. She brings in a certain gravitas.

Verdict

Bhakshak is the perfect example of how to make a hard-hitting drama. Do take time for it. The film is streaming on Netflix.

(Views expressed here personal.)

Kho Gaye Hum Kahan: A Well Made Slice Of Life Drama That Exposes The Dangers Of Social Media

Debut director Arjun Varain Singh gives an honest insight into the phenomenon of social media and how this made youth less communicative with each other.

Kho Gaye Hum Kahan (Hindi)
Starcast: Ananya Pandey, Siddanth Chaturvedi, Adarsh Gaurav, Kalki Kochelin, Anya Singh and others
Director and writer: Arjun Varain Singh
Additional writers: Zoya Akhtar, Reema Kagti and Yash Sahai
Music directors: Sachin- Jigar, Ankur Tewari and others
Production Companies: Excel Entertainment and Tiger Baby films
Genre: Drama
Running time: 2 hours and 14 minutes
Streaming site: Netflix

Since internet arrived there has been a huge bloom of social media in everyone’s life particularly the Gen Z. There is no denying that social media has its advantages; communication and spreading information has become easier whether it is for good or bad. But at the same time social media does come with its own share of negatives. There is an obsession to seek validification from complete strangers. Arjun Varain Singh uses the tonality of Dil Chahta Hai and Zindagi na milegi dobara to deliver a timely story that never becomes preachy. What also helps Kho Gaye Hum Kahan is its principal cast. The trio of Ananya Pandey, Siddhant Chaturvedi and Adarsh Gourav are in brilliant form.

Ananya Pande, Siddhant Chaturvedi and Adarsh Gourav

Kho Gaye Hum Kahan starts off with establishing the lifestyle of Ahana (Ananya Pandey), Imaad (Siddhant Chaturvedi) and Niel (Adarsh Gourav). They live in a spacious apartment in South Bombay with French windows. Everything looks sleek on the surface but as the story progresses we come to know more and more about these characters. One of the things that make this trio relatable is the side effects of social media.

They have their own share of trauma and insecurities. Their only way of dealing with it is seeking validation on social media. For example Imaad is a Tinder addict who has a major problem with long term relationships. He is a standup comedian who uses humour as a tool to camouflage his internal issues.  

Seems like someone dissecting my life: Ananya Pande

Seems like someone dissecting my life: Ananya Pande

Niel is a gym trainer who has dreams of starting his own one day. He doesn’t have the same financial safety as Ahana and Imaad. He constantly compares himself to others by looking at their social media posts and falls deeper into the abyss. He is also in a relationship with a social media influencer Lala (Anya Singh). Lala wants to keep her relationship with Niel a secret as she doesn’t want her ‘hot’ image to be disturbed.

Lastly there is Ahana who has the most stable job among the trio. Ahana is a marketing executive but she also comes with her own share of problems. These include both professional and personal. Her boyfriend suddenly decides to break from her with no valid reason. She retaliates by opening an instagram account and starts posting good pictures of herself presenting a happy image but deep down she just wants to gain back the attention of her ex boyfriend.

Hone do jo hota hai, the song that involves almost every actor

Things take a turn when three of them decide to start a business together. However their personal equations go through many upheavals that impact their professional moves.

A major strength of Kho Gaye Hum Kahan is the way the three protagonists have been written. All of them are flawed and there are times where they are outright unlikeable too. Still many youngsters will find a little bit of themselves in them. Thanks to Zoya Akhtar and Reema Kagti’s sensitive writing these characters never become one note or caricaturist.

Director Arjun Varain Singh also does a good job in weaving the angle of class disparity through the character of Niel. There are moments when Niel judges himself and feels like an odd man out.

Kho Gaye Hum Kahan also makes some important points on the lifestyle of social media influencers and how this has a severe affect on youngsters who want to ape them.

Ananya Pande explores social media

The film begins off as a breezy friendship drama but soon enters into a very different zone altogether. It becomes a relationship thriller about loneliness in digital age.

Fortunately the direction coupled with the writing makes this a smooth process. However there are a couple of aspects that could have done with more insight. One of them is the co living.

The performances of the central cast also help the film immensely. After 2022’s Gehraiyaan Ananya finally gets a part with some substance. The actress is pitch-perfect in portraying the vulnerability of Ahana. Ananya displays a huge level of maturity in handling different emotions. She also shares a good camaraderie with her two co stars particularly Siddhant. There is a breezy vibe between them that makes it instantly endearing to the audiences.

Compelling watch

Siddanth Chaturvedi also gets into the skin of Imaad. He does a very good job in conveying the emptiness and the inner pain hiding behind the mask of standup comedy. Adarsh Gourav continues to show why he is a bundle of talent after White Tiger. He shines bright as the conflicted Niel who wants to hide his middle class upbringing.

Kalki Kochelin plays an older woman who gets involved with Imaad. She is a photographer who is seen doing a project on people who use Tinder. There is nothing to complain about her performance but the character could have done with more meat.

Kho Gaye Hum Kahan is both entertaining and also highly relatable. It should definitely be on your watch list.

Archies: A Hollow Teenage Drama Led By Three Disappointing Star Kids

Zoya Akhtar’s launch pad for Suhana Khan, Khushi Kapoor, and Agastya Nanda is a major misfire. The musical format only adds to the woes.

Zoya Akhtar’s weakest work to date!

Archies (Hindi)

  • Cast: Suhana Khan, Khushi Kapoor, Agastya Nanda, Vedang Raina, Yuvraj Menda, and Aditi “Dot” Saigal
  • Director: Zoya Akhtar
  • Producer: Tiger Baby Productions
  • Music: Shankar-Ehsaan-Loy
  • Runtime: 2 hours 21 minutes
  • OTT Platform: Netflix

Archies is one of those movies that has created a significant buzz from its inception.

There are many reasons for this. One is the popularity of its source material Archie Comics. The characters in Archie Comics have appeared in numerous films and television programs among others.

Secondly, this movie is also a launch pad for three-star kids hailing from illustrious families. Agastya Nanda is the grandson of Bollywood Shahenshah Amitabh Bachchan, Khushi Kapoor is the younger daughter of the late Sridevi, and lastly, Suhana Khan is the daughter of Bollywood’s Badshah Shah Rukh Khan.

There is a general fascination that viewers have with star kids as much as we may hate nepotism.

Zoya Akhtar has created her own identity as a storyteller — be it is movies or the digital platform. This also has contributed to Archies being much anticipated.

Archies falls flat

However, this time, Zoya Akhtar falls flat in her attempt at combining a coming-of-age drama with social issues like development versus environmental good.

Archies directed by Zoya Akhtar
‘Archies’ directed by Zoya Akhtar. (X)

Among the cast, it is the non-star kids who fare much better, particularly Vedang Raina.

Karan Johar did a far superior job with his young cast in Student of The Year (2013).

For those who are not familiar with the Archie comics, the story is set in a picturesque hill station called Riverdale.

Riverdale is home to many Anglo-Indians who chose to stay in India after independence. The viewers are first introduced to the constantly flirting Andrews aka Archie (Agastya Nanda). Andrews has a small band which he proclaims will soon become the best in the world after the Beatles.

After this, we are introduced to the other important characters. Some of these are Betty (Khushi Kapoor) and Veronica (Suhana Khan). Veronica is a rich kid who constantly keeps pouting and generally comes across as annoying.

In simple terms, the story of Archies is about how Andrews and his seven friends navigate friendship, romance, and social responsibility.

Riverdale has a Green Park which holds a significant place in the local community.

Just like any other masala film you have Veronica’s businessman father who is hell-bent on destroying the park and wants to build a posh hostel in that place.

Performances

Before getting into the dissection of the movie, it is necessary to get done with the performances of the new cast.

Suhana Khan in Archies
Suhana Khan in ‘Archies’. (NetflixIndia/ X)

As mentioned above Suhana Khan was disappointing in her debut performance.

In places, Suhana tries to channel her father, particularly in the portions where Veronica has to show arrogance. But it comes across as too off-putting and doesn’t endear her to the audience in any way.

Alia Bhatt also played a rich girl (Shanaya Singhania) in Student of The Year but that was written far better despite the less screen time.

In Student of The Year, too, there were occasions where Shanaya came across as arrogant but director Karan Johar and Alia were successful in humanising her as well.

Unfortunately, nothing of that sort happens here. Suhana Khan overplays the snootiness and falters badly in the few emotional bits.

Khushi Kapoor is also very bland in her debut. In fact, Janhvi Kapoor was much better in her first film Dhadak (2018) despite the raw edges.

Agastya Nanda is suitably charming in the beginning but soon enough, his performance also becomes wooden.

It is the non-star kids who save the film from completely sinking. A particular mention must be made of Vedang Raina. He brings in the right amount of swag as the Rakish Reggie.

A special mention must be made of the scene between him and Dilton (Yuvraj Menda). It has the right mix of tenderness and vulnerability.

Flaws

Agatsya Nanda in Archies
Agatsya Nanda in ‘Archies’. (X)

Coming to the flaws, a big problem with Archies is the overdose of songs. Agree that the film is a musical but still, Zoya Akhtar overdoes the songs.

All the characters express their feelings through songs. This becomes too much after a point.

A good example of this is the scene where Andrew realises that politics is personal and that some causes are worth fighting for. This huge transformation happens through an incoherently staged “Everything is Political” song.

There is no denying that Archies looks visually colourful, thanks to Nikos Anaritsaksi’s cinematography and Suzanne Caplan Merwanji’s production design. However, soon enough, a sense of artificiality creeps in. This is because of the hollowness beneath the gloss.

The character of Suhana’s father (Ally Khan) is another big joke. The character has been poorly written and the way he praises his daughter after the Green Park has been saved comes across as a big joke.

The scenes between Varun Dhawan and his rich father in Student of The Year (Ram Kapoor) had much more of an impact despite the clichés.

Both Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara (2011) and Dil Dhadakne Do (2015), despite being about rich people, had genuine emotions and characters that viewers invested in.

However, the characters in Archies are cardboard cuts and the weak performances, particularly from Suhana, Khushi, and Agastya don’t help the cause either.

Final take

Archies is Zoya Akhtar’s weakest work to date. The acclaimed director has put more focus on how to present the star kids rather than making an impactful film.

Apurva : Tara Sutaria Delivers A Knockout Punch In This Predictable Yet Gritty Survival Drama

Keeps you hooked.

Apurva (Hindi)

  • Cast: Tara Sutaria, Abhishek Banerjee, Rajpal Yadav, and Dhairya Karwa
  • Director: Nikhil Nagesh Bhat
  • Producer: Murad Khetani
  • Music: Vishal Mishra
  • Runtime: 1 hour 35 minutes
  • OTT platform: Disney+ Hotstar

Nikhil Nagesh Bhat’s Apurva is based on an extraordinary real-life story of a girl named Apurva who was kidnapped by some goons in the Chambal area.

With no substantial help, Apurva fought them all alone and emerged as a victor.

The film begins by establishing the extreme cruelty of the four bad guys.

The main antagonists among these are Abhishek Banerjee and Rajpal Yadav. From there, we see how Apurva’s (Tara Sutaria) path crosses with these four local dacoits.

Excellent characterisation

Tara Sutaria in Apurva
Tara Sutaria in ‘Apurva’. (X)

To put it briefly, the story of Apurva is about how a city girl transforms herself into goddess Durga and kills the bad guys, of course, not literally.

The big area where Apurva scores is the gritty atmosphere that pulls the viewers into the story.

Despite tonal similarities with NH10 (2015), director Nikhil Nagesh Bhat and his technical team stage the Chambal area with authenticity. There is no artificiality whatsoever.

What also works for the film is a sense of dread that the director creates among the viewers with the help of the background score.

The characterisations of the dacoits are another major plus for the film.

Abhishek Banerjee and Co are truly scary as psychopaths. As a result, the viewers anxiously wait for Tara Sutaria’s Apurva to come out safe.

The characterisation of Apurva from a city girl to finding herself in a life-threatening situation has been written well. Her love story with Sid (Dhairya Karwa) gives some much-needed light moments. Both actors share good chemistry.

A brilliant Tara Sutaria

Tara Sutaria debuted with the sequel of Student of The Year 2 in 2019. Since then, she faltered in the selection of roles.

But here, the actress has an author-backed part, and Tara delivers a commendable performance. It is a juicy role with different shades, and Tara doesn’t miss a single beat.

Dhairya Karwa also does well as the supportive fiancée. He succeeds in portraying the love and desperation of Sid.

Coming to the local dacoits, Rajpal Yadav and Abhishek Banerjee successfully make the audiences hate them, particularly Abhishek, who plays an unhinged man with a lot of glee.

The major problem with Apurva is the excessive bloodshed and cuss words that won’t go down well with all. The serious hangover of NH10 also acts as a deterrent in some parts.

The police characters feel cardboard, more like an add-on, and don’t serve any purpose.

Same case with Apurva’s parents. They are hardly there.

Final take

To sum it up, watch Apurva if you are a fan of gritty dramas and real-life stories.

Pippa: An Engrossing War Drama That Throws Light On A Significant Chapter In Indian History

An impactful war film meant for theatres!

Pippa (Hindi)

  • Cast: Ishaan Khattar, Priyanshu Painyuli, Mrunal Thakur, and Soni Razdan
  • Director: Raja Krishna Menon
  • Producers: Ronnie Screwvala and Siddarth Roy Kapur
  • Music: AR Rahman
  • Runtime: 2 hours 19 minutes
  • OTT Platform: Amazon Prime Video

The significance of the 1971 Bangladesh War goes beyond winning the battle against Pakistan. It is more about liberating the large number of refugees who have faced many atrocities.

In a scene in Pippa, Ishaan Khattar’s character talks about how this is the first military battle fought to free the helpless.

For those who are not aware, Pippa is based on the book titled “Burning Chaffees“. Ishaan Khattar plays Brigadier Balram Singh Mehta (the author) aka Balli.

Ram Mehta (Priyanshu Painyuli), an army officer, is the elder brother of Balli. Ram’s personality is different from that of Balli. Not surprisingly, both brothers often find themselves at odds.

Their sister Radha (Mrunal Thakur) is an expert at cryptography and quite rebellious, too. This comes out well in a scene where we see her participating in a college protest.

Mrs Mehta (Soni Razdan) is their mother.

Balli’s family is a refugee family from Rawalpindi, West Pakistan. There is a brilliant scene when Mrs Mehta talks about how people don’t become refugees by choice.

As the story progresses, all three siblings play a vital role in the Indian victory.

Analysis

The first feeling that comes to viewers’ minds after watching Pippa is why it was not released in theatres. The war sequences have been brilliantly shot, and if seen on the big screen, the impact would have been tenfold.

Pippa has all the elements needed for a big theatrical experience. However, there is no point in dwelling on that now.

So, let’s go into the analysis. Raja Krishna Menon does not waste any time in setting up the plot.

There is a graphic representative story at the start that shows many people in East Pakistan being gunned down. This disturbs us, and you will instantly empathise with Bangladeshis.

After that, the director establishes the relationship dynamics of these siblings, which adds to the human drama when Ram becomes a war prisoner.

For those who don’t know, Pippa is a nickname given to the army tank PT 76 that Balli operates. The scenes of Ishaan Khattar leading this tank are a sight to behold.

The camaraderie between the members of Balli’s squadron has some amusing moments, like the scene where the mutton is cooked when the war preparations are going on.

Ishaan cements his place in Bollywood

Mrunal Thakur and Ishan Khattar in Pippa
Mrunal Thakur and Ishan Khattar in ‘Pippa’. (X)

On the performance front, Ishaan Khattar leads the show with his impeccable act. His character starts as a constantly flirting captain. From there, we see him as an unhappy officer who notes down maintenance reports to finally being a brave commander.

Ishaan strongly pulls all these shades. With this film, the actor cements his place as a young talent who is versatile with his choices.

Priyanshu Painyuli is also equally good as the elder brother. His confrontational scenes with Ishaan give some powerful moments.

Mrunal Thakur does well both as a caring young sister and a cryptographer who helps the nation.

Soni Razdan has a brief presence, but the actress is impactful in her scenes, particularly the one where she talks about refugees.

Rahman’s music & BGM do wonders

Ishan Khattar in Pippa
Ishan Khattar ‘in Pippa’. (X)

AR Rahman’s music and background score complement the film.

The soundtrack is diverse, starting with “Main Parwaana“. This song brings out the playful side of Balram. The choreography and the tune go perfectly well with the setting.

On the other hand, you have the more intense “Jazbaat” that gives an adrenaline rush.

The background score is also chilling and enhances many of the war scenes.

Director Raja Krishna Menon also deserves appreciation for how he gives equal importance to the character arcs of Ram Mehta and Radha. They are blended seamlessly into the narrative.

An area where the film could have been better is the visual effects. Also, 10 minutes could have been edited.

Verdict

Not many stories about the Bangladesh war are made into films. Let’s hope Pippa will rekindle interest in that glorious chapter in Indian history for the new generation.